Tour of the Museum

Dairy Breeds


Dairy Barn, Canada Food and Agriculture Museum


The Museum’s working dairy barn is home to a herd of 40 to 50 dairy cows. This herd is made up of the six most common dairy breeds in Canada:

The Museum is also preserving the only dairy breed to have developed on this continent, the Canadienne.


To keep milk production consistent, the Museum has cows at different stages of gestation year round. Maternity pens change occupants regularly as expectant cows are watched for signs of labour and new calves are born.

Care and Feeding:

The first two days of milk are critical to a newborn calf because it is colostrum, an antibody-rich liquid that helps build the immune system. This milk is used to feed the calf only and is not marketed.

The average dairy cow eats around 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of food each day. This is divided evenly among hay for roughage and oats, soybean meal, and oil cake for protein. (Oil cake is ground flax or soya beans from which the oil has been removed.) In addition, each cow drinks a bathtub’s worth of water each day — more if it’s hot!

Museum staff milk the cows twice daily (6 a.m. and 4 p.m.). They use a modern milking machine that takes 3 to 5 minutes per cow, versus the 10 to 15 minutes hand-milking would take. Cows are milked 305 days a year and rest the other 60 days. The Museum’s milk goes to Dairy Farmers of Ontario to be processed and distributed in grocery stores. Visitors are invited to watch the 4 p.m. milking.

Dairy Cows in Canada:

Canada has one of the highest average milk-per-cow ratios in the world (8,738 kilograms per 305 days). Plus, Canadian milk is internationally recognized for its superior quality. There are over 20,000 dairy farms in Canada with an average 54 cows per herd. That totals approximately 1.2 million dairy cows. Ontario and Quebec produce the most milk.

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